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Home » Stories, True and Otherwise

Person, Place, Or Thing

Submitted by on September 10, 2016 – 12:36 PM35 Comments


We bought at the bottom of the market but still paid too much for our house, a creaking lemon held together by wood paneling and ancient nests of wiring.

Then, with the piecemeal renovations that we came to think of as the real-estate equivalent of performing organ transplants on ourselves while competing in a triathlon, the waterfall that sprang up in a light fixture after a blizzard, the squirrel that found a long-capped chimney and died in it and took only a few days short of forever to finish decaying, the unsistered roof beams, the toilet older than the plumber who came to give it last rites, the house became a family member like any other, maddening, inconsiderate, expensive, and your best barefoot comfort. It's just a house, I suppose, and now that we've begun to outgrow it — the creature-to-bathroom ratio, don't you know — I should begin to pull away from it in my heart, replace stories with numbers, businesslike.

Easier said than done when I got married in the yard, under a tree that keeps doubling in size, before D3 made a birdhouse at school and hung it from the branch over the walkway. When I came back from my first date with Dirk, into the downstairs kitchen to report to Gen. "How'd it g–" "HE WAS ON UNSOLVED MYSTERIES." When, on our second date, Dirk forgot to turn off Broker Voice and informed me while almost falling down the front steps that "these aren't up to code."

Stairs, our neighbor has informed us many many times, poured by the guy who poured the concrete for the World Trade Center. Our neighbor used to own our house; his house goes back generations in his family. This house winds through an inherited parcel, chopped up by the assigns of a man named Drake in the 1880s, through a Thos. Seward, inspector of city highways (and his stepson, the improbably poetic Eugene Maker the undertaker), and then an investor who bought the house the day after Mr. S was born, and then our neighbor, and our neighbor's tenants (a veteran named Mouse; the residents of a large fish tank), to us, our stoop sales and paint chips, the dumbwaiter we never got around to installing, the crawlspace. God, that crawlspace. Is it a requirement that such areas contain at least one (1) rusted spring and one (1) doll part? Whatever fatal set-to occurred between an old mattress and a Betsy Wetsy at the top of this building once upon a time, the jetsam is too creepy to confront. The next owners can clear it out if they're feeling strong. Maybe they'll also find the packet of Monopoly money we plastered into a gap in the kitchen wall, as a joke. Maybe we'll leave them my office door — it didn't have one, so Dirk had a vintage one shipped from a Midwestern salvage lot, the kind with frosted ripple glass and a flaking porcelain knob. Maybe we'll take it with us and I'll finally get "HOMICIDE" lettered onto it like I've threatened to for years.

Or maybe the next owners will tear the whole thing down and start over. Maybe they won't think, like I do, like I wish I didn't because sentimentality is exhausting, that buildings can have souls of their own, the accumulation of all the stories on all the storeys therein, and the protection of that accumulation. That they won't become becalmed as I might in 20 Questions in the car, coming back from the last trip of summer, looking out the window in stop-and-go traffic at leaves with a knife edge of yellow or down at my flip-flops with their mealy soles, and it's my turn to pick something so I pick "home."

"Person, place, or thing."

("Is it Don?" Hey, not everything comes to an end. Happy birthday, friend.)

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